Ifan Morgan Jones
Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said it is possible the next year’s Senedd elections may not go ahead as planned due to the coronavirus.
He suggested that unless a vaccine or treatment is found in the meantime, the elections due to be held on Thursday, 6 May of next year may need to be pushed back to a later date.
This would mean that more than five years have passed since the last elections in May 2016. Five years have already been an extension on the first three Assemblies which only lasted four years each.
“No one is suggesting now that the elections cannot go ahead because we may be able to say that we will be in a position by then [next May] when we may have a vaccine or effective antiviral treatment, but I can’t give you any certainty about that,” Vaughan Gething said.
“It’s much better to be honest about that than to try and pretend that we absolutely will do everything according to a set timescale.”
I’m sure the Health Minister’s concerns are genuine but it may not have been a good idea to say this out loud considering that opposition parties will no doubt seize on it to claim that Labour want to delay elections in which they are, at the moment, expected to take a drubbing (I’m increasingly sceptical that will still be the case by this time next year though).
However, in reality, I think it’s extremely unlikely that the elections will actually need to be postponed. In fact, while delaying the PCC and Engand’s local elections were no doubt the right move at the time, a Senedd election could probably be held even now without flouting social distancing rules.
We should never say never of course. The coronavirus could mutate tomorrow into a far more dangerous virus that requires a far more stringent lockdown.
But if supermarkets can stay open with a one in one out policy in place, then no doubt polling stations could do the same thing.
And let’s face it, this is a Senedd election we’re talking about – the polling stations are unlikely be heaving as hundreds rush all at once to ensure that their vote is counted.
As long as it could be ensured that everyone has a polling booth in their local area, which should be the case anyway, no rules will be flouted.
And let us not forget that the Senedd does have a whole year to organise this thing. If they put their heads together I am quite sure that they could ensure that everyone gets a postal vote. They could even organise an online voting system by then, if we really are facing a post-apocalyptic scenario.
The Senedd vote would also coincide with PCC elections across Wales and England, council elections in England and the Scottish Parliament elections in Scotland. If they go ahead (particularly the PCC elections) then it would be impossible to postpone the Senedd ones.
By May of next year, elections are also likely to have been held in Iceland (presidential election, June), Belarus (presidential election, August), and France (senate elections, September). In October, there are scheduled polls in Austria, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, and Ukraine.
There is no suggestion yet of these elections being postponed and they will no doubt find ways to hold them that Wales can then emulate in May.
It’s also worth remembering that, ultimately, it’s the Senedd which would decide whether the election is delayed – not the Welsh Government – and it’s the Senedd which would organise the vote – not the Welsh Government.
It’s fair to say therefore that we shouldn’t over-react to the Health Minister’s words today.